For twelve years, the Heart of the City Music Festival has enlivened Edmonton’s core for one weekend in June by filling it with the work of the city’s musicians and artists.
The festival’s continued mandate is to foster local artistic talent by providing performers and artists at all levels with an opportunity to showcase their musical talents and to strengthen inner-city community engagement.
The Heart of the City Music Festival is FREE for every one of all ages to attend and is supported by hundreds of partners and volunteers working hard to provide a family-friendly music and arts festival.
Bissell Centre is proud to be one of the many sponsors of the event, along with McCauley Community League, Boyle Street Community Services, Bent Arrow, E4C, and other dedicated supporters.
2015 Heart of the City Music Festival:
Saturday, June 6th – 11:00am to 9:00pm
Sunday, June 7th – 11:00am to 5:00pm
Little Italy’s Giovanni Caboto Park (located between 108A and 109A Avenues and 94 and 95 streets.)
FREE for everyone to attend
All ages are welcome
City of Edmonton bylaws prohibit the attendance of dogs
This past year, 2014-2015, had its challenges, but overall we had a stellar year.
We weathered another Thrift Shoppe fire and thanks to hundreds and hundreds of kind citizens we were able to restock our shop and reopen in November.
Our 24/7 MAP prototype finished its second year and demonstrated that it is an effective and efficient way to divert crises from the police and emergency medical services while offering humane interventions that assist the homeless in getting connected to services and supports they need.
We are currently working with our community colleagues to review the prototype and figure out how, together, to move forward with an integrated, community approach to crisis diversion services.
We added a Jobs Club to our mix of employment services, which helped find permanent jobs for 100 of our clients – all of them paying above a living wage.
Late in the year, we were able to add three more Housing First staff who are focusing on finding homes for large families with complex needs.
We also worked to better integrate all of our services in order to make it easier for people to access them, and have nearly completed the creation of a database that will help us better understand, act, and track our work with those who seek our help.
We also ended the year in strong financial shape, generating a small surplus in operations, which will go into our “rainy day” fund.
April 1 marked the beginning of our new fiscal year. It’s going to be a challenging one, given the economic climate. We anticipate some reduced funding from our provincial funders, but believe at this writing, the reductions will be manageable.
That said, we have secured or will be securing resources to continue to grow our services to address our mission and priorities. Our two major priorities this year are to house more homeless people and put more people to work.
Currently we are designing a new assertive outreach team that will consist of seven staff, all of them devoted to seeking out homeless individuals and working with them to find and sustain housing.
This team will add to our already considerable Housing First work and will also help those homeless individuals who do not qualify for Housing First assistance. In the first year, our goal is to find housing for 150 more homeless people than we currently do each year. Stay tuned for more on this; we hope to launch in July or August.
We are also working on a plan that will increase our capacity to secure more temporary and permanent employment for low income workers. While I do not have a launch date in mind as of yet, we hope to get this off the ground within the next 12 months.
Our sincere condolences go out to the friends and family of the individual who lost his life in the workplace accident in Westmount yesterday. We are also heartened by the outpouring of care and concern from communities in the wake of what has happened.
Some media reports have mentioned that the individual was placed at the worksite by Bissell Centre. To clarify these reports, our Casual Labour Program did not place the individual at this jobsite or to any of the companies cited by the media. We are not a subcontractor and do not hire people directly, but connect workers with companies that are registered with Bissell Centre.
We are still awaiting the official identity of the individual and will share information when more is known.
About our Casual Labour Program:
Over 20 years ago, we recognized the safety concerns of workers. We started our Casual Labour Program as a social mission to address those concerns and to reduce barriers to employment for people on the street. We are committed to providing our participants the training and resources needed to ensure safety and success in the workplace.
Worker Safety and Employer Accountability:
Our Casual Labour Program offers up to 100 job placements every day for the unemployed. We work closely with over 500 registered employers who understand and agree to our standards regarding workplace safety, the hiring process, and successful payment for the worker. In 2014, we conducted 60 jobsite visits and we ended relationships with four businesses that did not meet our quality control standards.
Worker safety is our highest priority. A committee of participants in our program meets regularly to share their experiences on the jobsite and provide feedback and raise concerns in order to increase our awareness about safety in the workplace. Workers are encouraged to leave the jobsite if safety is an issue. That way, Bissell staff will meet with the employer to voice these concerns.
We encourage people to not accept jobs without safety measures in place, but the reality is that there are people who are desperate to work and do not raise safety concerns out of fear of losing their job. We try to mitigate this through education and skills training.
Safety and Skills Training:
The Casual Labour Program offers training and skill enhancement free of charge for workers needing to be job ready. The program provides: employment counselling, job searches, resume writing, Construction Safety Training System (CSTS), H2S (Hydrogen Sulphide) Alive, Standard First Aid, and other job specific training. It also offers free lunches, boots, coveralls, gloves, and bus tickets when needed.
Casual Labour Success Story:
For three years, Steve relied on Bissell Centre’s Casual Labour Program to find daily, temporary work. The staff of our Employment Services Program saw that he had a strong work ethic, a drive to succeed, and was a reliable participant of the program. They were able to immediately engage with him and discuss setting career minded goals, including operating his own business.
Personal issues in Steve’s life started to take control and pull him away from the program. He was seen less and less on a daily basis and this was a cause of concern for staff.
Employment Services was able to enroll Steve into Bissell Centre’s Homeless to Homes (H2H) Program to get him housed in hopes of getting his life back on a track. With the support from H2H, Steve was able to have the space to address his personal issues, gain the life skills necessary to get control of his life, and restore his confidence. The road blocks that impeded his ability to be a successful participant with the Casual Labour Program were reduced.
Steve has since come back to Bissell Centre’s Program as a registered business owner of a successful roofing company that billed $20,000 in the first month of operation. Employment Services was able to provide him with referrals and encouragement to start his business and continues to support him with his success. The program refers casual labour staff to work for him, provides the resources to help with problems that may occur on the worksite, and offers guidance to his staff who might also be dealing with personal problems.
Casual Labour Statistics:
60 jobsite visits (2014)
14,000 casual labour placements (2014)
500 registered employers
$1M in the pockets of our workers
100 full time job placements
For more information about our Casual Labour Program, please visit our webpage here.
For media inquiries, please contact Darren Brennan, Marketing and Fund Development Associate, at 780.423.2285. ext. 129, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you! Over 300 turkey meals were served at our annual Easter celebration for the inner-city community, an undertaking that would not have been possible without the dedication of our supporters, volunteers, and hard-working staff.
An additional thanks to Stadium Save-On-Foods and Eastwood Safeway for providing spring flowers as centerpieces. The flowers brightened the room and were much appreciated by our participants!
A hot meal amongst community can be a first step towards a life out of poverty and homelessness. This is why your support means so much!
Below is a video and some photos from the event. Enjoy!
Hundreds of people from Edmonton’s inner-city community gathered in our Drop-in Centre to enjoy a hot meal during our annual Easter celebration. Thank you again to the many generous supporters and volunteers who helped make this year’s event possible. If you enjoyed the video, please share it with your friends. 🙂
“They took my hand and they held it and never let me go” – Rocky
After years of brutal domestic abuse when he was child, Rocky fled from his hometown in British Columbia to Edmonton to start a new life.
He found himself homeless, lost, and scared. “I didn’t know anybody. The life on the streets was hard and scary”, he says. “You never know when someone is going to attack you.”
Rocky began to use drugs and alcohol as a way to wash away the painful memories of his family life and was in and out of jail for 15 years.
He was always hungry and went without food for long periods of time.
He saw many desperately hungry people on the streets resort to stealing just to get some food.
“It was pretty sad to not find a place to get a meal and I noticed a lot people would go to stores to steal food”, Rocky said.
He felt isolated and lonely, especially during the holiday seasons.
He dreamed of enjoying a hot meal and a safe place with family and friends.
Rocky eventually came to Bissell Centre and immediately felt safe and welcome in the Drop-in Centre. He had access to hot meals, clean clothes, bathrooms, showers, and help finding work and a home. He said, “I had no clothes, I had nothing, but here they give it to youâ€¦a lot of people don’t have access to that and Bissell provides all that.”
Getting a daily lunch at Bissell Centre was the start of his journey out of homelessness. The comfort he found in meals was also found in staff who treated him with dignity and respect.
It gave him the confidence to start on a new path. “It’s an honour to work with these people and I feel happy and good when I talk to them”, says Rocky, “Once that door opened, I kept going and the doors always kept opening. They took my hand and they held it and never let me go”.
He watched as other people who came for meals also ending up getting the help they needed. “I have seen people come here and find a home. Some of them do change”, he says.
Rocky’s family never got together during Easter.
Enjoying holiday meals with friends in the Drop-in Centre gives him the warmth he needs. “The meals are a treat for the people here and I enjoy them. I have been to a lot of places and I am always saying that I’m grateful to have a place like the Bissell Centre that helps people.”
He believes that if there were no meals served in the inner city, there would be more problems on the street and, “they will lose hope and it’s bad enough that they lost hope in their life”.
Today, Rocky is sober and stably housed. Even though he has a home, Rocky still comes to the Drop-in Centre every day for a hot meal and to be with friends. Rocky’s goal is to go back to school to become a counselor to help others find hope and a new life.
We will be serving 300 hot meals to people in need at our annual Easter feast, an undertaking that would not be possible without the support of many.
Please help us provide meals and care for people like Rocky this Easter.
Students from Strathcona High School’s Leadership Program came together and shattered their goal of $200,000 to fight poverty in Edmonton and in Ecuador by raising $352,000 in just five weeks!
Through their Treehouse Project, the students raised enough funding that will provide housing for the homeless in Edmonton through Bissell Centre’s Housing Options Program (HOP) and the construction of an ecotourism lodge that will not only protect the rainforst in Ecuador but will alleviate poverty for the Siona people through Change for Children.
The students rallied the local community securing partnerships with the City of Edmonton Task Force to End Poverty and with local businesses. The fundraiser was launched on February 11th and was capped off with a 24 hour bike-a-thon starting on March 19th where 114 fundraising teams of students, plus volunteers, teachers, and alumni, rode stationary bikes in the Strathcona High School gymnasium with Mayor Don Iveson also participating at the main event. In total, 1,135 riders culminated in the high school gym with the closing ceremonies and a cheque presentation taking place the next day on March 20th.
We are very grateful to be a part of such an amazing fundraiser from young leaders who have worked hard to provide new opportunities for the homeless to be housed in Edmonton and for economic development that will protect the homes of impoverished people in Ecuador for generations to come.
Candace Thomas decided she would do anything to keep her baby.
She did everything she had to do to get off the streets, to conquer her addictions, and have a healthy baby, but she couldn’t do it alone. Bissell Centre’s Childcare Program was there to give her the support she needed to be successful.
“I trust this daycare over any daycare,” says Candace, 31. “They really have a good, high standard. The quality of care that my daughter receives is excellent.”
A year ago, Candace worked hard with a few agencies. She attended 12 step meetings, found a sponsor, attended more meetings and did everything she could in order to keep her daughter. Now she lives in a house of her own. She has successfully completed treatment for her addictions issues and continues to work on building a new life with her daughter.
She brought her now four-month-old daughter Oskiah with her to our interview. Oskiah is a healthy, happy baby who spent the entirety of our interview laughing and cuddling with her mother. Candace also looks happy and healthy, and takes every opportunity to bond with her baby. Between questions she holds Oskiah up to look into her eyes and tickle her chin.
Crucial to her success in this new life, Candace says, is Bissell Centre’s Childcare Program. Team Lead Fatima Bellahmer and the other child care workers put in special care and attention that she says has been an invaluable aid.
“Fatima even calls me and asks if Oskiah coming and if I’m bringing her this week,” says Candace. “If I didn’t have the daycare I really don’t know what I’d do, to be honest. I would just be at home. Probably just trying to deal with it and struggle and struggle and struggle. Without the daycare I don’t think I’d be able to cope.”
Candace appreciates having staff and other parents she can go to with questions, be notified of other opportunities in the community, and otherwise find friendly support.
This story is from our March 2015 newsletter, which can be viewed in full here, with other great articles for you to enjoy!
We recently received a testimonial letter from a couple who are offering a safe place to live for a single mother and her children through our Homeless to Homes Program. We are very grateful for their commitment to helping, and we’re encouraged by their positive experience. The letter is a testament of the importance of working together to address housing needs and alleviating poverty in our city.
Here’s what they had to say:
“To whom it may concern,
We own a single-family house in Pleasantview and have been landlords in the Homeless to Homes program for over a year. It has been a rewarding experience for us, and we would like to encourage other landlords to participate.
In this program, a family that needs adequate and safe accommodation is provided with a place to live, while the landlord benefits by being assured that the rent will be paid on time each month. Landlords also derive a sense of well-being from knowing that they are doing a small part to reduce homelessness in the community. It truly is a win-win situation!
The family that lives in our house consists of a single mother with several children, and they have been a joy to work with. The children are well-behaved, and the house has been well cared for. They are happy to have a spacious and comfortable home with a yard, and we are happy to see them thriving.
During their time in the program, the family receives intensive support from a social worker, which means that any problems can be spotted quickly before they have a chance to grow. In our case, there have been no problems, but just knowing that our tenant has a support worker in place gives us confidence.
We want to assure landlords who may be hesitant or uncertain about participation in Homeless to Homes that the program is carefully managed and that the clients who are chosen are those most likely to succeed.
As every landlord knows, there is always an element of risk when you choose to rent a property to someone else. But in the case of the Homeless to Homes program, the risk is minimal, the rewards immeasurable”.
Please visit our website here for more information about our Homeless to Homes Program and the importance of housing to eliminate poverty.
On Saturday, Feb. 21st, the “United for Bissell” Gala Dinner & Silent Auction was held at Southminster-Steinhauer United Church in Edmonton with all proceeds from the evening supporting our efforts to eliminate poverty in our community.
A special thanks to our long-time supporters, Tammy and Clare Irwin, and to the United Church congregations that were involved, the fundraiser was a giant success with every ticket and single auction item sold.
The evening featured a full dinner service, a silent auction, musical entertainment (harpist and a recorder quartet), and was hosted by Bissell Centre’s former Executive Director Larry Derkach, who served at the organization for almost 25 years. It was also attended by our current Bissell Centre CEO, Mark Holmgren, who identified the ways Bissell Centre was looking to increase the capacity of its mandate by putting more people to work and housing more homeless.
“I really do think it is encouraging that so many [congregations] were able to be involved – and of course it is due to Bissell’s good work in the community” – Tammy Irwin
The fundraiser was inspired by the now extinct Bissellebration fundraiser and the multiple fires and floods we have experienced recently to help us overcome the financial challenges we faced. Many of the attendees were long-time supporters of Bissellebration and the event speaks to our strong ties with the United Church community.
We would like to say thank you to the following people, and to the donors and volunteers, who played an important role in planning the fundraiser and making it a success:
We recently received a hand-written letter from a 30 year old mother of three who lived a rough life growing up at the hands of domestic abuse leading to addictions and life on the streets. Her letter attests to the struggles of her past and the progress she has made to turn her life around. We are proud of her achievements and so grateful to have been there for her and her family through the tough times.
Here are a few excerpts from her letter that we would like to share:
“I am attending MacEwan University taking my Bachelor of Arts Major in Sociology specializing in family, youth, and diversity and a minor in Psychology. I am in my first year and I am also a Volunteer Reintegration Team Leader for the women getting out of the prison and currently trying to get a job at CEASE to help women getting out of prostitution”.
“My children have been attending the Bissell daycare for 2 ½ years now and even through it is only one day a week, Fatima gives me 3+ days a week. For this I am so grateful because without the extra days I would not be able to attend MacEwan University, study, or achieve my career goal. I also would not be able to take my oldest son to his appointments or even be able to attend my own personal recovery meetings or counselling sessions. To put my kids in a regular daycare I would not be able to afford it. The parent portion even with subsidy would be close to $1,000 a month for all three of my kids.”
“I cannot stress enough how much the Bissell is helping me to succeed. I am so grateful that Fatima gives me the extra days a week. I would not be able to do all I’m doing without the free childcare and extra days. Also, my children love the Bissell. They are comfortable with the staff and have a lot of fun there and I’m at ease because I know they are well taken care of. Having support from the Bissell is helping me to step out of my past and into my future. They are also helping to give my kids a great future too. Thank you Fatima and daycare staff for believing in me and helping me and my family succeed, I would not be able to be where I am today without you”.
If you or someone you know is in need of family support, please visit our Child & Family Services page here.